Dec 21, 2023
Ariane 6 uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as fuel for its main and upper stages. Hydrogen in its gaseous form (H2) is rarely found on Earth, and so is currently produced in French Guiana from steam reforming of methanol (CH3OH).
Other processes are far more sustainable and so ESA and France’s space agency CNES wish to switch to solar-powered electrolysis of water which can reduce by five the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for hydrogen production.
ESA and CNES are determined to reduce the footprint of rocket launches and ground operations at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, and are aiming to deliver low-carbon hydrogen generated by solar-powered electrolysis of water by 2026.
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Project Hyguane – a portmanteau of the French words for hydrogen, French Guiana and the local Iguanas – is a €40.5M investment in a solar farm and distribution systems and is being designed to be allowed to easily expand in the future.
The Hyguane facility could save over 3000 tonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide emissions a year when operational, while supplying up to 12% of Ariane 6 needs based on nine launches per year.
The project does not stop at the space sector, by supplying hydrogen fuel cells it will allow low-carbon vehicles and hydrogen electricity generators to operate in French Guiana. The project will ease the transition to hydrogen vehicles and demonstrate that fuel cells can replace diesel-engine generators.
A hydrogen refuelling station designed and operated by SARA and a Hydrogen Competence Centre operated by MT-Aerospace are key factors in developing low-carbon transport in French Guiana as they allow for vehicle fuelling and maintenance.
The project is a large contribution to CNES and ESA’s sustainability efforts to make 90% of Europe’s Spaceport run on renewable energy by 2030.
Teddy Peponnet, head of the project for ESA, said “this novel facility will be a shining example of carbon-free production of hydrogen when it opens and we aim to set an example for a more sustainable future.”
After three years of studies, the project started on 13 December with the signing of the consortium agreement between the parties involved: four companies – Air Liquide, SARA, MT-Aerospace and BEBLUE; three universities – Université de Guyane, Université de Liège, Université Libre de Bruxelles and two institutions – ESA and CNES. ADEME, the french agency in charge of ecology transition is as well part of the project, is financially supporting Hyguane with €10M.
Planned for completion in 2026, the project could be extended to double the production of hydrogen and supply additional hydrogen vehicles (such as coaches, buses, and trucks) and hydrogen electricity generators.
Teddy Peponnet adds “Green hydrogen is ready to fly! The technical revolution is on its way.”